Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beckmann, Max

Double Portrait
oil on canvas
130.8 x 75.6 cm (51 1/2 x 29 3/4 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA, USA

This double portrait shows two of Beckmann's close friends: Hanns Swarzenski, a scholar of medieval art (and curator at the Museum of Fine Arts), and Curt Valentin (holding a candle), the New York art dealer who did much to promote Beckmann's reputation in the United States. Both visited Beckmann in Amsterdam during 1946, after the war's long interruption; but they visited at different times and never posed together. Instead, this imagined scene is a testament to the power of friendship and those who tended the light of civilization and civility during the long dark years of the Nazis. (mfa, Boston)

“… I have never been politically active in any way. I have tried only to realize my conception of the world as intensely as possible… My aim is to transfer this reality into painting ? to make the visible invisible through reality… In my opinion all important things in art since Ur of Chaldees, since Tell Halaf and Crete have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being. Self-realization is the urge of all objective spirits. It is this self that I am searching in my life and in my art … The greatest danger that threatens humanity is collectivism. Everywhere attempts are being made to lower the happiness and the way of living of mankind to the level of termites. I am against these attempts with all the strength of my being .. I am immersed in the phenomenon of the individual, the so called whole Individual, and I try in every way to explain and present it. What are you? What am I? Those are the questions that constantly persecute and torment me and perhaps also play some part in  my art.” (Beckmann)

Max Beckmann (1884 - 1950) is widely acknowledged as one of Germany’s leading twentieth-century artists. He was born into a middle-class family in Leipzig, Germany. He enrolled at the Weimar Academy of Arts in 1899. From his youth he pitted himself against the old masters. Before the age of thirty, he was successful as an artist and financially secure. His paintings of the time, inspired by Impressionism, attracted clients, and he exhibited widely in Europe during the teens and 1920s.
Beckmann is a figurative painter throughout his career. He depicted the world around him with an unparalleled intensity. His work emerges directly from his experiences of the First and Second World Wars, the political upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Nazism, exile in Amsterdam and his final emigration to the United States. By capturing the objects and events that surrounded him, Beckmann hoped to grasp the deeper mysteries underlying human existence. He perceived and painted the world as a vast stage, at once real and magical, upon which his own life and the traumas of contemporary history were closely intertwined.
Beckmann continuously engaged with new artistic developments and was eager to compete with his peers. However, he refused to join any movement or group, cultivating the image of an isolated figure within the history of modern art. Nevertheless, his work after the First World War had strong affinities with German Expressionism and Cubism. During the 1920s he was regarded as a forerunner of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), and a decade later incorporated abstract elements in his paintings. His ability to respond to artistic challenges ensured the continuing vitality of his art.

Beckmann's fortunes changed with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, whose dislike of Modern Art quickly led to its suppression by the state. Under the Nazi regime he was classified and persecuted as a ‘degenerate’ artist, and fled to Amsterdam in 1937. Even though this was a time of privation, isolation and anxiety, it was one of Beckmann’s most productive periods.

After the war, Beckmann moved to the United States, and during the last three years of his life, he once again achieved widespread recognition as a major force in modern art. He taught at the art schools of Washington University in St. Louis and the Brooklyn Museum.